President Obama and his administration have made education a focal part of his presidency thus far, as exhibited by the allocation of federal funds. For example, in the Race to the Top (RTTT) program, the White House has created a system where states must take part in a national competition to get additional federal funds. No matter how you feel about RTTT, you have to agree that the creation of a competition for limited funds adds a sense of national urgency to the education conversation.
In the State of the Union address, the president reiterated his consistent effort to tackle income inequality in America. What better way to do that than by using the education system? If schools are set up to prepare students to become contributors to the well-being of the country, then education may be the best way to change income disparities.
A recent emphasis within our federal, state, and local educational systems has been on providing students with college and career readiness skills. In order to make sure that students are prepared for the next steps of their lives, it would benefit us all to better the education system and improve the pipeline that leads students from schools to the type of jobs that will be in high demand.
A recent Reuters article takes an in depth look at the state of Massachusetts and how education and income inequality form a "vicious cycle" where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It highlights how a former class president of one of the state’s best-educated towns understands that the school system figures into part of the reason why many families choose to live there.
It is not coincidental that the best schools are in neighborhoods with higher incomes. Often, schools in wealthier areas benefit from much more than just increased access to wealth. Other advantages range from better-educated families, to families that are more involved with the schooling of their children, to safer schools and neighborhoods. If more schools could provide great educations to all children, then it would not be hard to believe that some of these other advantages would follow suit.
To improve class relations and income inequality, we must improve our schools. The education of all children is the most precious investment we have to a better, more equitable society. Putting such a heavy task on the education system alone, however, is not fair. Schools and other partnering organizations must work together in order to provide our children with everything they need to succeed. In New York, programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone and Good Shepard Services have found ways to help students learn and also create nurturing environments that help in the overall development of our children.
The income gap begins widening before our children even enter school for the first time. Schools give us our first shot at shrinking income inequality. Hence, the best and most effective way to address income inequality in America is to begin with implementing changes within our educational system.